Feminist approaches to anorexia nervosa: a qualitative study of a treatment group

Su Holmes, Sarah Drake, Kelsey Odgers, Jon Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Eating disorders (EDs) are now often approached as biopsychosocial problems. But it has been suggested by scholars interested in sociocultural factors that all is not equal within this biospsychosocial framework, with the ‘social’ aspects of the equation relegated to secondary factors within ED treatment contexts. Although sociocultural influences are well-established as risk factors for EDs, the exploration of whether or how such perspectives are useful in treatment has been little explored. In responding to this context, this article seeks to discuss and evaluate a 10 week closed group intervention based on feminist approaches to EDs at a residential eating disorder clinic in the East of England.

Methods: The data was collected via one-to-one qualitative interviews and then analysed using thematic discourse analysis.

Results: The participants suggested that the groups were helpful in enabling them to situate their problem within a broader cultural and group context, that they could operate as a form of ‘protection’ from ideologies regarding femininity, and that a focus on the societal contexts for EDs could potentially reduce feelings of self-blame. At the same time, the research pointed to the complexities of participants considering societal rather than individualised explanations for their problems, whilst it also confronted the implications of ambivalent responses toward feminism.

Conclusions: Highly visible sociocultural factors in EDs – such as gender - may often be overlooked in ED clinical contexts. Although based on limited data, this research raises questions about the marginalisation of sociocultural factors in treatment, and the benefits and challenges including the latter may involve.
Original languageEnglish
Article number36
JournalJournal of Eating Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2017


  • Treatment
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Group
  • Gender
  • Feminism
  • Sociocultural
  • Qualitative

Cite this